McIlroy powers to a 65 for early lead at PGA Championship

May 19, 2022, 1:44 AM | Updated: May 20, 2022, 5:07 am
Lucas Herbert, of Australia, hits his tee shot on the fifth hole during the first round of the PGA ...

Lucas Herbert, of Australia, hits his tee shot on the fifth hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Southern Hills Country Club, Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Rory McIlroy was more interested in his own history in the majors than the peculiar heritage at Southern Hills on Thursday at the PGA Championship.

Southern Hills has proven to be favorable to frontrunners. As for McIlroy, he has failed to break par in the opening round 15 times in the 27 majors he has played since winning his last one.

So there was reason for that bounce in his step when he finished with an 18-foot birdie putt for a 5-under 65, giving him a one-shot lead at end of a warm and windy day.

He was asked — yes or no — if it was the start he wanted.

“Yes or no? No, I’d rather shoot 74 and try to make the cut tomorrow,” he said. “Yeah, look, it was a great start. I’ve been carrying some good form. I think when your game is feeling like that, it’s just a matter of going out there and really sticking to your game plan, executing as well as you possibly can, and just sort of staying in your own little world.”

It’s a different world for Tiger Woods, who chose a different path on a right leg shattered in a car crash 15 months ago and feeling worse on this day than it did at the Masters last month.

Three bogeys in the middle of his round ruined a good start for Woods. Two bogeys at the end gave him a 74, his worst start to the PGA Championship since 2015. And then he limped away for an afternoon of ice baths.

“I just can’t load it,” Woods said of his right leg, injured in February 2021. “Loading hurts, pressing off it hurts, and walking hurts, and twisting hurts. It’s just golf. I don’t play that, if I don’t do that, then I’m all right.”

McIlroy had a one-shot lead over Pebble Beach winner Tom Hoge and Will Zalatoris, who finished his 66 with a 30-foot birdie, his fourth putt of 25 feet or longer.

Justin Thomas, trying to shake off a sinus infection and allergies, made one of only four birdies on the 18th hole for a 67 in the afternoon, when greens had more foot traffic and scoring was more difficult. Also a 67 were Matt Kuchar and Abraham Ancer.

The start was just what McIlroy needed as he tries to end nearly eight years without a major, many of those chances doomed by bad starts. This was his lowest start to par in a major since a 5-under 66 when he won the PGA at Valhalla in 2014, the last of his four majors.

In seven previous majors at Southern Hills, the winner had at least a share of the lead after the first round and every champion was atop the leaderboard from 36 holes until it over.

That bodes well for McIlroy, and so does his game. He chose to attack with driver, leaving him wedges to par 4s and and 3-iron into a pair of par 5s that measure 628 yards and 665 yards.

“I feel like this course, it lets you be pretty aggressive off the tee if you want to be, so I hit quite a lot of drivers out there and took advantage of my length and finished that off with some nice iron play and some nice putting,” he said.

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler had to save par from a tee shot in the water on 18th hole for a 71, his first time over par in two months.

“I didn’t shoot myself out of it,” he said.

Jordan Spieth, who joined Woods and McIlroy in a group that drew a loud and thoroughly entertained crowd, opened with a 72 in his bid to capture the only major keeping him from the career Grand Slam.

Woods opted for a different strategy than McIlroy and Spieth, picking his targets off the tee with irons. That didn’t work when some of those irons didn’t always find the short grass.

“You go out there and hit driver a lot, and if you have a hot week, you have a hot week and you’re up there,” Woods said. “The game is just different. It’s much more aggressive now, and I know that. But I was playing to my spots. If I would have hit the ball solidly on those two holes and put the ball in the fairway, I would have been fine.”

The difference between McIlroy and Woods was clear early in the round. On the 461-yard 12th hole, Woods hit iron off the tee that left him 178 yards. McIlroy pounded driver with a slight fade with the prevailing breeze, leaving him 86 yards. He hit lob wedge to a foot for birdie.

That was the start of four straight birdies for McIlroy, which included a 6-iron to 25 feet for his longest birdie of the day at the par-3 14th.

McIlroy made birdie on the two par 5s from greenside bunkers. He hit another big drive on the tough par-4 second, leaving 7-iron to about 10 feet.

“Making birdie there is a real bonus,” he said.

The bigger concern was his leg. Woods has said he has good days and bad, and this didn’t look like a great one. Of equal concern was going into Friday nine shots behind McIlroy and likely having to fight to make the cut.

The warmth — not oven heat like the 2007 PGA in August — and mild wind led to ideal scoring, though Southern Hills still had enough defense.

Twenty-six players from a field of 156 broke par, only nine of them in the afternoon. McIlroy will have to deal with the late start on Friday.

“I don’t think a major champion here has ever been double digits under par, so you know the scores aren’t going to go much further,” Hoge said. “It’s a grind out here.”

___

More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaks during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Day...
Associated Press

Alabama No. 1 in preseason coaches’ poll; Ohio St. 2, UGA 3

Alabama was voted No. 1 in the preseason USA Today coaches’ poll released Monday, with Ohio State second and defending national champion Georgia third. The Associated Press preseason Top 25 will be released Aug. 15. The Crimson Tide received 54 first-place votes from a panel of 66 major college football coaches. Alabama is coming off […]
1 day ago
Philadelphia Phillies' Bryson Stott, left, hits a three RBI-double off Washington Nationals' Victor...
Associated Press

Phillies pushing hard for 1st playoff berth since 2011

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bob Boone waved to the Phillies crowd that accentuated the “Booooo” in his name in honor of the Gold Glove-winning catcher that caught the last out of the 1980 World Series. He was an All-Star, a defensive whiz in Philly, a revered member of that championship season who, along with late Tug […]
1 day ago
Talor Gooch acknowledges the crowd before hitting off the first tee during the final round of the B...
Associated Press

PGA Tour says players knew consequences of joining LIV Golf

The PGA Tour asked a federal judge in San Francisco to deny the appeal of three suspended players who joined Saudi-backed LIV Golf and now want to compete in the tour’s lucrative postseason, arguing the players knew the consequences two months ago. Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford filed a temporary restraining order last […]
1 day ago
Milwaukee Brewers' Luis Uria is hit by a pitch during the seventh inning of a baseball game against...
Associated Press

Brewers tumble out of 1st in division after trading Hader

MILWAUKEE (AP) — In the week since trading of four-time All-Star closer Josh Hader, virtually nothing has gone right for the Milwaukee Brewers. They owned a three-game lead in the NL Central when they sent Hader to the San Diego Padres, but have gone 1-5 since and trail the streaking St. Louis Cardinals by two […]
1 day ago
FILE - Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron is shown during the first period of an NHL hockey game again...
Associated Press

Bruins bring back captain Bergeron — and David Krejci, too

BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Bruins are getting the gang back together, signing captain Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci — two members of their 2011 Stanley Cup championship team — to one-year deals on Monday. Almost three months after he left the ice without any certainty that he would return, Bergeron signed a one-year deal […]
1 day ago
PSG's Lionel Messi waves during the French Super Cup final soccer match between Nantes and Paris Sa...
Associated Press

Viewer’s guide for this year’s World Cup in Qatar

A last chance for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Kylian Mbappé back on the biggest stage of all. Brazil bidding for a record-extending sixth title. One of the most eagerly anticipated World Cups in memory — as much for off-the-field reasons as those on it — is just around the corner in Qatar and excitement […]
1 day ago
McIlroy powers to a 65 for early lead at PGA Championship